Protesters claim police brutality, but the media say otherwise.
When rumors began to swirl that police were gearing up to clear Dilworth Plaza early Tuesday evening, there were more media than Occupiers occupying the plaza. But soon, sympathizers, gawkers and more media rushed in to watch—and document—a very visual ending to the 56-day Tent City.
By sunrise, 52 arrests were made and 27 tons of trash were removed from the plaza. The concrete apron around City Hall was cleaner than it has been in years. Everyone can agree on this much.
Since then, two distinct stories have emerged, and they have irreconcilable differences. Local news documented a few rough moments: a woman’s foot was injured when a PPD horse charged a crowd; a cop “rammed” a guy with his bike; and three officers were injured. But the general consensus has been, as the Inky put it, “compared to the violent confrontations that have occurred in other cities between Occupiers and the police, the night’s pain was minimal.”
But in a press conference held last Friday, Occupy activists one by one venomously disputed those reports, referring to the “overwhelming use of force” and “absolute rancor and violence.”
“I’m here to speak out against police brutality, my incident and the many, many incidents that happened that night,” said Vanessa Marie Graber, one of Occupy’s more visible activists.
“Out of nowhere, a police officer charged his horse into a crowd of peaceful protesters and journalists and I was knocked over and injured,” continued Graber. She wouldn’t specify her injuries due to legal concerns. Her foot was encased in a blue Velcro soft cast.
The press conference quickly devolved from a declaration of Occupy’s future to an indictment of the media, which, as almost any Occupier (and Will Bunch of the Daily News) can tell you, Keep Getting It Wrong—this time, about the prevalence of police brutality.
An Inky reporter challenged the Occupier’s version of events. “I was there all night and so were my colleagues,” the reporter said. “They saw nothing of what is being described here, and certainly to accuse reporters of lying is a really serious charge.”
While the reporter was talking, a young woman, presumably an Occupier, stood up, approached the reporter, crouched down and whispered, “I think you are taking this personally. It’s getting really uncomfortable, do you know what I mean?”
“Reporters, journalists have not spent a great amount of time [at Dilworth Plaza],” thundered Graber. “They come to events, and they interview random people, and they don’t really get the story right because they don’t have relationships with the people that are involved. They don’t know who the quote-unquote leaders are of this movement.”
(At least Occupy is finally admitting there is leadership—though self-identified Occupy PR people still request to be quoted as only “a member,” keeping attribution and accountability circuitous.)
But you don’t need “the right phone numbers” plugged into your cell to take a good look around.
PW had four reporters on the scene the night of the eviction. None said they saw police brutality. All said they saw protesters provoking the police.
Reporter Michael Alan Goldberg followed what he poetically called “the game of Center City Pac Man” marches from midnight to morning. “Overall, based on what I saw, the police were pretty restrained,” says Goldberg. “Every now and then they’d shove someone with a bike, and I saw a couple needless elbows given to protesters without provocation. But I also saw protesters purposely crowding bike cops—riding at the edges of the march, on the sidewalks, against buildings—provoking the cops to push their bikes against marchers to get free.”
“I saw a couple people grabbed by cops and swung around by their clothes, a couple others tackled,” he adds. “But nothing I would term brutality in any way.”
Reporter Randy LoBasso followed the crowd from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He said the police were “very subdued.”
“I could not believe what the police were letting the Occupiers get away with,” says LoBasso. “Protesters locked arms across the street and onto the sidewalk so police could not get by, and when they tried, police that pushed their way through, were pushed back by protesters, yet did not retaliate ... Every time a protester started a scuffle with police, and police fought back, the protester and everyone … would raise their hands and say they were all “peaceful” when they were not.”
As Occupiers’ allegations of widespread police brutality surfaced last week, one co-worker who has spent a lifetime chasing police corruption sighed, “I can’t believe I’m defending the po-po.”
Some protesters explain the disconnect by claiming all reporters and cameras must have been in different places than the alleged “many, many” police beatings. Then there are semantics—conversations reveal that when some say “excessive force,” they are referring simply to the number of police and the military quality of their gear, not to any particular action.